Spinning Rods vs. Casting Rods: How to Know the Difference

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Spinning Rods vs. Casting Rods: How to Know the Difference

Spinning Rods vs. Casting Rods_How to Know the Difference
Spinning Rods vs. Casting Rods: How to Know the Difference

There are a handful of essential, absolutely vital skills a new angler should learn as they begin their fishing journey:

  1. How to hook a minnow or worm
  2. How to cast
  3. When and how to reel
  4. Ways to safely remove a fish from the hook after it has been caught
  5. How to tie a simple knot (like the Palomar)

Only slightly further down the list of importance is understanding the difference between a spinning rod and a casting rod.

In the not-too-terribly-distant-past, I asked a friend to grab me a new spinning rod when he was shopping at Cabela’s.

Despite fishing for most of his life, in a rush, he hastily grabbed a brand new St. Croix Bass X Rod, took it home, and realized he had purchased a casting rod instead of a spinning rod.

Needless to say, I ended up having to pick up a new baitcaster reel shortly after.

I also made sure to never make that mistake again.

Below, we will share some helpful information that will hopefully keep you from making the same mistake yourself.

So, What are the Differences Between Spinning Rods and Casting Rods?

Spinning Rod and Reel _ Which Way Should it Face
One way to tell you are using a spinning rod is that the line guides will be facing downward when the reel is attached

If you are new to the world of fishing or if you have just heard these terms recently, the terminology can be confusing sometimes.

Growing up, older anglers typically talked about open-faced and closed-faced reels. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I even heard the terms spinning or casting in reference to rods or reels.

For starters, spinning rods don’t spin (but the reels you pair with them do).

Likewise, both spinning rods and casting rods can be used to cast.

In short, the biggest difference between spinning rods and casting rods is the type of reel your pair with them. There are several other key differences, however, which you can find below.

Spinning Rods: What Does it Look Like, What Species to Fish For, Choosing the Right Reel, etc.

Spinning Rod and Reel _ How is it Different from a Casting Rod
Spinning Rod and Reel

Generally considered the better option for beginning anglers, spinning reels are thought to be easier to string, cast, and maintain than baitcaster reels.

Spinning rods tend to come in ultra-light, light, and medium power. As such, spinning rods are popular when fishing for smaller species like panfish, crappie, trout, saugeye, and even lighter bass.

But what makes spinning rods different than casting rods?

There are several key differences, which you can find below:

Spinning Rod and Reel - How to Use
Spinning Rod and Reel Demonstration
  1. Spinning Reels: Aptly named because the spool spins when the handle is cranked, the rods are named accordingly because this is the only type of reel that effectively pairs with the spinning rod. As you can see in the animation above, spinning reels are retrieved in a counter-clockwise motion.
  2. Rod Guides: When the spinning rod is paired with a spinning reel, the rod guides (circle eyelets) should be facing downward. This is the natural bend of the spinning rods, and attempting to use it upside-down can result in an awkward, inefficient retrieval and, more importantly, an increased risk of snapping your rod if your get even a fairly heavy or aggressive fish on the line.
  3. Reel Seat: This is the section toward the lower part of the rod where you secure your reel. The opening (where your reel connects) will always be down-facing. If you are unsure, check the rod guides — the circle eyelets will be facing in the same direction.
  4. Casting: Since the reel and rod guides are both facing the same direction, anglers will cast a spinning reel by holding the bail of the spinning reel open and releasing the line with all components remaining in a downward position.
Spinning Rod and Reel _ How to Match Them
Spinning reels and rods will connect in a downward-facing position.

In the photo above, you can clearly see where your spinning reel will connect to the spinning rod. If you are shopping and still having difficulty, ask a staff member for assistance.

What are Some of the Best Spinning Rod Brands?

There are roughly a dozen names synonymous with the fishing industry that have absolutely defined the spinning rod market. Combining top brands like St. Croix, G.loomis, and Abu Garcia with smaller upstarts or regional brands leaves consumers with dozens (if not hundreds) more options, guaranteeing that the right fit is out there somewhere.

Some popular spinning rod offerings from these top brands include:

When Should You Use a Spinning Rod?

As we mentioned above, there are definitely times when choosing a spinning rod will be beneficial. Depending on your experience, type of fish you are targeting, lure/bait, and types of structure around, you might want to choose a spinning rod if:

  • You Are New to Fishing: Casting takes some effort regardless of your experience level. That said, most beginners find the functionality of a spinning reel to be easier than that of a casting reel. You are also more likely to avoid tangling your line, which will save you a lot of time, effort, energy, and patience.
  • You Are Fishing for Smaller Species: I’ve landed crappie and even a bluegill or twelve (unintentionally) when using a casting rod. At the end of the day, the fish don’t care what type of rod and reel you’re using. Still, there are a plethora of high-quality spinning rods and reels for panfish.
  • Your Technique Is Fairly Simple and Straightforward: If you are content with simply casting and retrieving your line without much style or flare, then you might be better off using a spinning rig. That’s not to say you can’t get fancy with your casting, but this is more suited to the average, workman-minded angler.

Casting Rods: What Does it Look Like, What Species to Fish For, Choosing the Right Reel, etc.

Casting Rod and Reel _ Is it Better Than a Spinning Rod
Casting Rod and Reel

Conversely, casting reels tend to be considered more advanced due to a higher level of precision and the potential for tangling your line on the spool (known as a bird’s nest or backlash).

Like spinning rods and reels, casting rods are only paired with baitcasting (or baitcaster) reels. Attempting to mix a casting rod with a spinning reel will result in a very awkward experience that can severely damage your rod.

While casting rods can be used for smaller species, these heavier rods often come in medium, medium heavy, and heavy power. As such, anglers often use casting rods when fishing for trophy-sized bass, walleye, muskie, and catfish.

What are the differences between casting rods and spinning rods?

The major differences include:

Casting Rod and Reel - How to Use
Casting Rod and Reel Demonstration
  1. Casting Reels: As we mentioned above, casting rods take a specific type of reel. Generally, most modern reels that meet this criteria are called baitcasters. While the specific shape, size, and design may vary, these reels retrieve line in a clockwise motion.
  2. Rod Guides: As we mentioned above, spinning rods have eyelets that face downward. For casting rods, however, these eyelets will face upward. You will want to make sure that your guides are facing upwards when fishing or else your rod could become damaged if you get a significant bite.
  3. Reel Seat: Most casting rods have a smaller reel seat than their spinning counterparts. You will also want to make sure that your reels and the eyelets are facing the same direction (upwards).
  4. Casting: While casting rods are popular because they lend themselves to a variety of techniques, anglers will always cast their lines with the reel and eyelets facing upward.
Casting Rod and Reel _ Which Way Should it Face
The reel and line guides will be facing upwards on a casting reel

What are Some of the Best Casting Rod Brands?

Much like spinning rods, many of the same stalwart fishing companies also provide casting rods. Berkley, Lew’s, Shimano, and other top brands can often be found at your local bait shop or big-box retailer.

Depending on the species, smaller companies may also offer a product that is actually better suited in certain situation than the national or international brands. Catch the Fever, for instance, makes one of the most popular rods for catfishing on the market.

Some popular casting rods from respected brands in the fishing industry include:

When Should You Use a Casting Rod?

We established above that spinning tackle is better suited for beginners. That doesn’t mean that casting rods and reels are exclusively meant for advanced or particularly dynamic anglers, however.

You should consider using a casting rod if:

  • You are Comfortable Casting: While some exceptions will always exist, it’s fair to say that most people who have never cast a line before will backlash their casting reel quickly — we’ve all been there! There are various techniques used to prevent this (like gently brushing your thumb against the spool to apply a slight pressure). If you aren’t comfortable with the mechanics of casting already, though, this could lead to loads of confusion and frustration.
  • You Are Throwing Fast-Retrieval Lures: One of the aspects many tournament pros (especially in the bass fishing community) love about casting rigs is that they can throw their lures (like crankbaits) over and over again with little wasted time or effort. While you can replicate this technique with spinning tackle, the design of the reels will cost you some valuable time.
  • You Want to Explore New Techniques: When people talk about specific casting techniques (like flipping/pitching), you often see these executed using casting rods and reels. While some techniques (like shooting docks for crappie) can be performed effectively using spinning tackle, some are better suited to casting rigs.
  • You’re Fishing for Big Species: There are plenty of anglers who have caught muskie, flathead catfish, and even some monster bass on spinning tackle. A handful even prefer this, like bass fishing legend Gary Yamamoto. While not particularly rare, these cases often tend to be the exception rather than the rule. There are plenty of heavy-duty spinning rod and reel combos on the market, but many anglers prefer a casting rig when targeting larger trophies.

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